When the word "Weed" comes up in conversations, Bob Marley, special brownies, and irresponsible teenagers usually crop up alongside it. It’s mostly thought of as a joke, an addiction, or a blight on society. But for some families, weed is a deadly serious topic.
Take young Jordan Lyles, for example. At six months old, she had her first seizure, and her mother, Paula Lyles, was shocked. "I had never seen a seizure before," she said in an interview. "We took her to the hospital. The doctors said that would probably be the only one she'd have and sent us home." However, when Jordan was 18 months, she began having even more seizures, all without explanation. When she was 11 years old, the answer finally came: Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy characterized by uncontrolled, continuous seizures. Doctors prescribed a combination of three anti-seizure medications.
However, like many anti-epileptic drugs, the prescription changed the little girl. "The drugs take her personality away. The side effects of the cure are horrible," Lyles says. Instead of violent seizures, Jordan started having "drop seizures" -- which caused her muscles to go limp. The medications took her speech away for two weeks, along with her ability to eat. That’s when her mother made a bold medical decision.
"I would rather have her lost to a seizure than watch her stolen away by the side effects of the medicine," Lyles says. She was a desperate mother, wanting to help her baby but unable to do so with traditional medicine. She'd heard about the healing properties of cannabis, but Lyles lived in Ohio, where medical marijuana is not legal. So what was a loving mother to do?
"I'm 52 years old," Lyles says. "My whole life is in Ohio, my family, my friends, my church, my doctors. ... I had a twinge in my heart because I knew it was the right thing to do, but my other voice is saying, 'Hey, this is crazy -- you're going to leave this all behind, break up your family and go?' "
She left Ohio six months ago, after much research and consultation with doctors. Lyles made a huge sacrifice, moving to a brand new state, leaving her job, her home, and even her husband and 25-year-old daughter, to come to Colorado, which is Gaiam TV's headquarters. Lyles began treating her daughter's epilepsy with a special strain of medical marijuana. It’s high in cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical in cannabis thought to have medicinal properties, and low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive chemical in pot that gets users high. It’s called Charlotte’s Web, named after seven-year-old Charlotte Figi of Colorado Springs. Charlotte also has Dravet syndrome; after being on seven medications with no success, she began taking marijuana in an oil form. Her seizures were drastically reduced -- from 300 a week to two or three a month.
It’s a similar result for Jordan, despite Lyles’s reluctance to give it a try. "We've been able to reduce her pharmaceuticals by 50% as a result of using Charlotte's Web," Lyles says. "It's ridiculous. I didn't want to do it, but now that I'm out here on the other side I know I'm where I'm supposed to be. I wanted to do anything to save Jordan's life."
The choice did not come easy. It was a war for Lyles between what she thought was right and what she held most dear. "Nobody should be forced with that choice," she said. "... Now I have hope. There was no hope if I had stayed home. I would just be watching her die."
Lyles is not alone in her bold decision. Over the last eight months, more than 100 families have moved to Colorado looking for medicine to save their children's lives, according to the Realm of Caring. The organization is run by the Stanley family -- medical marijuana growers and dispensary owners who pioneered a strain of cannabis high in CBD and low in THC. This transition of families is making headlines all across the United Sates, and is a controversial debate.
Regardless of the medical effects marijuana can provide, even in the 20 states and the District of Columbia where medical marijuana is legal, the federal government classifies cannabis is a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. Others in that category: heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Some criticize parents giving such a substance to their young ones, despite the testimonials that have cropped up proclaiming cannabis to be a godsend.
It’s not to say that medical marijuana is a failproof cure for those suffering from conditions like epilepsy. It doesn’t always work, and may even be detrimental. There is no definitive proof on the side effects of cannabis.
One parent who did not find weed to be a cure for her child is Nicole, 35, who declined to share her last name to the press. She and her husband moved to Colorado from Minnesota nearly four years ago when his job transferred him. Their son was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome just before turning 3. He'd had seizures since he was 11 months old. He would have between 50 and 90 grand mal seizures in a 48-hour period.
Like Lyles’s experience, ,a href="/video/new-medicine">traditional Western medicine was no help. "He's tried several diets, supplements -- pretty much you name it, we've tried it," Nicole says. "He's even tried the medication that's used in dogs to treat epilepsy, triple bromide. It didn't work."
But neither did marijuana. Three times over the course of a year they tried CBD and THCa, a strain of non-psychoactive medical marijuana. "It never helped his big seizures. In fact, they kept getting worse," Nicole says. "They were getting worse before we started cannabis, but cannabis did not help them." Since they stopped the cannabis more than a year ago, Nicole says her son is doing much better. However, she still supports cannabis as a treatment option.
"I've seen firsthand what this has done for other kids, and just because this doesn't work for my son doesn't mean that I'm against it," she says. "Knowing what I know now, I would still try it."
Again, it’s a long ways off before society starts deeming giving medical marijuana to children as acceptable. But are these people bad parents? Or just worried family members who will do anything to ease their children’s suffering? Many would probably like to say the former, but it’s vital to hear the stories of individuals and their journeys before casting the first stone. Is it time to change our perspectives on cannabis? Or is it time to find new cures, ASAP?